The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.
~ Albert Camus
Life is Silly
Life is silly. It’s absurd that we’re even here, that we exist; ridiculous that we have arms; laughable that we discuss; ludicrous that we eat breakfast. Yet we do all these things, against incredible odds.
Why do some celebrate life while others endure it? Because those who cherish life understand that it is absurd.
The promotion. The breakup. The traffic. The move. This is the stuff that life is made of. From inside our bubble, these things are of monumental importance.
Set against the backdrop of the cosmos, however, these things become comically insignificant. For some, that depresses. For others, it uplifts. What is the difference? And what’s love got to do with it?
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
~ Carl Sagan
Inconsequential. Fraction of a dot. I’m reminded of an opening scene from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, in which our young protagonist is taken to see a therapist. His mother sits beside him on a couch, and implores Alvy to tell the doctor what ails him.
“The universe is expanding,” he mutters.
“What has the universe got to do with you?” his mother asks. “You live in Brooklyn!”
The universe is expanding, and Alvy is depressed by this. What does anything matter if one day it will all end?
What does it all mean?
Love. Everything we fight for, whether on the battlefield or in our hearts, is love.
But why? If everything is so insignificant, why is love the exception?
If absurdity is the First Truth, love is the second, and the last.
Imagine you’re a therapist. A troubled soul comes to your door, begging to be rid of their problems. Could you use Carl Sagan’s advice to lift her spirits?
I understand that your husband left you, that you lost your job, that your mother didn’t show you affection, but none of that matters, you see. We’re only a pale blue dot.
I somehow doubt that this would provide any comfort. Let love enter the picture, though, and all becomes clear.
Let me give an example or two. In Changeling, a distraught mother loses her child. It’s easy to understand, then, how this struggling mother would fail to attach any significance to things like promotions and long lines at the grocery store. Her child is lost, and her missing love is all that matters.
Why is Romeo & Juliet the ultimate story of love? Imagine our two tragic heroes lamenting the ‘C’ they were just given on their latest college exam. It’s an absurd notion, of course, because nothing matters but their love.
Go back to your patient. Would she feel so despondent if there existed some trace of this all-encompassing love? Probably not. Everything else pales in comparison.
But can you lead her to these conclusions through logic and reason? Can you simply explain it? No. Of course not. She has to feel it, because, supreme principle that reason is, intuition must, on occasion, make up for its shortcomings.
Imagine watching over a colony of ants. For hours, days, weeks, you watch over them. You watch them struggle, overcome, fail, succeed, live. You know, of course, that their actions mean relatively nothing, that their struggles are insignificant. Now, imagine two of your ants fall in love. Would you attach the same meaninglessness to their love? Most of us, knowing its power, would in fact feel that their love is now the only thing that matters. That is life, and life is love.
Insignificance is a depressing thought for some, only because it is viewed through a constrictive lens. Widening the lens reveals love, and only when held up to the light of love can the illusion of darkness be revealed.
All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.
~ Leo Tolstoy